This story is by Nicohle Christopherson and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The bomber was toying with them by divulging three possible targets. Teams stood by at each, but she refused to give the true location. They were forced to search her basement lair. The place was disorganized, the brick walls and unfinished roof telling of neglect.
All the furniture were old pieces, scratched and scored. A desk with two drawers, covered in papers and wires. A worktable with one drawer, on it a keg of grey powder and a clock that was stopped at midnight. Last, a large red button next to the door they’d come in.
There was no carpet, and the floor was swept. Janine, New York Detective, walked in with swift steps. Dogging her steps were Detective Randy and Detective Cecilia. Both were capable, with Cecilia having an overwhelming amount of training.
“Two suitcases here,” Randy noted, pulling them out from under the workbench. Different sizes and colors, well-used.
Cecilia zeroed in on a white box that was attached to the wall.
Janine went to the desk and pulled open the drawers, finding one locked. The one that opened held keys. A photo laid under the keys. She noticed immediately a red x over the face. She turned it over. “I have a weird photo over here. Has the letter R on the back.”
“Hey, look at this,” Cecilia called, drawing their attention back to the white box on the wall. Randy and Janine crowded around behind Cecilia. There were wooden stakes on the top of the box. You could only see the tops of them but she could tell that they extended further inside the box. Each of them were painted a color. They were red, orange, yellow, blue, and purple. She showed them that you could press down on one of the wooden stakes. When she did so, there was a glow of letters ORA adjacent to where the wood was pressed down.
She then pressed the red one down. “See? RED. And this one’s GRE. That’s different.”
She proceeded to pop down all the little boards, and the letters GRE appeared for the yellow and EN was spelled by the blue board.
“Green? What does that mean…” Janine dropped that line of thought as an idea sparked. She near-lunged for the desk, snatching up the keys before fumbling through them to find the right one, trying each in the lock. Finally, the drawer slid open, and Janine was rewarded with shreds of paper and another photo with an X. She turned it over, and sure enough, there was a red “I” emblazoned on the back. “I? Why I?”
“Who knows. What’re those papers?” Randy stalked over and flicked one of them. It fell to the floor and revealed a series of lines. Janine picked it up. She laid out the pieces and found they were the same paper. In fact, after a few moments, she’d spelled out a word.
“FIRE.” She murmured. “Is it some kind of code?”
“Maybe to one of those?” Randy pointed to the pile of suitcases, both of which were sporting locks. Janine moved closer and inspected the locks, which, it turned out, were two different types. One had letters, the other required keys. Janine put in the code, and the suitcase popped open easily, revealing clothes neatly folded into it.
“…There has to be something else here. They wouldn’t lock it if there wasn’t.” Janine muttered, before taking the clothes out and scattering them. Another target, this time with the letter E and a paper with jumbled letters.
“It’s an anagram. You have to unscramble it.” Cecilia pointed out. “Good luck.” She patted Randy on the shoulder in passing, and he heaved a world-weary sigh. Then, he stepped across the space and opened the work desk drawer, looking for a pencil. What he found, along with the pencil, was another target, and a small piece of paper.
Janine snatched the paper from his hands (“Hey!”), and read it. “You wait for it. It cracks, stays for a moment, and disappears before your eyes. A riddle?”
“Come on! You’re wasting time.” Cecilia huffed, pointing to the timer ticking away. Forty minutes and counting.
“Alright, alright.” Randy muttered, his shoulders tight as he started unscrambling the anagram.
While he did that, Janine mumbled about the riddle. “A memory? No, it doesn’t crackle. A whip?”
“Brooklyn. It’s in Brooklyn!” He shouted, throwing the pencil down in victory. “Here, let me look at that riddle.” He offered, high on the success. He pondered over it for a few tense, ticking moments, before his face lit up, “Gunpowder!”
“Huh?” Cecilia echoed Janine.
“Fireworks. They crackle, stay for a few seconds, and then disappear. Gunpowder is in firecrackers and it’s right there!” He pointed to the small keg filled with grey powder. “I bet you anything something is hidden in there.”
“Not it!” Janine yelped, and Cecilia groaned and walked around Randy to the other side of the worktable. Rolling her eyes at the childish antics, she laid out some of the random papers from the desk, and began pouring the gunpowder out. It didn’t take long to reveal a manilla envelope. Inside lay a single paper. Upon pulling it out, they realized, with groans all around, it was a sudoku puzzle with the word “TIME” on the bottom.
The puzzles were popular lately, and it was obvious the bomber was a fan from the beginners sudoku book in the corner of the desk. Janine snatched the pencil from Randy and rushed there, picking the book up and reading the instructions out loud.
A bell dinged, panic setting in as they realized their time was down to 20 minutes. Janine began working out the columns and rows of 9 numbers. Four of the numbers were highlighted, and it took thirteen tries to get the right code.
After the code was revealed, they searched around for anything they could put it into. 1127, four digits, one code. But the only lock left, the one on the second suitcase, was a turnkey. Janine paced the floor, searching drawers, books, papers, for anything useful.
Randy started looking at the objects in the room, the wires, the mechanical parts. He gave a frustrated click of his tongue when he found nothing useful.
It was Cecilia who gasped and pointed to the clock. “11:27! It’s a time! The clock!”
Randy, who was next to it, snatched up the clock and moved the minute hand from midnight to 27. “It clicked!” He announced, before moving the hour hand to eleven. It clicked again, and a small compartment popped out of the top of the clock. Inside, a folded piece of paper which turned out to be another victim (with B on the back) wrapped around a key.
Randy took a step and started unlocking the suitcase. When he got in it though, he jumped back. Inside, the other two soon found out, was a bomb. A ticking bomb, strapped to what looked like several pounds of TNT. The timer read 15 minutes. Their time was running out.
“Jesus, this is just…” Randy wiped sweat from his brow.
“…Do you think it’s real?” Janine whispered.
“Of course not. It’s just another puzzle.” Cecilia reassured her.
“Yeah. Yeah, alright.” Janine agreed as they all drew closer. Examining the bomb, all the wires were encased in the metal of the clock, except for two. A red and a green wire. Next to the bomb, a pair of wire cutters sat. “I think we have to pick one.”
“But… which one?” Randy muttered. “If we get it wrong…”
“Yeah.” Cecilia agreed. “We must’ve gotten this one’s clue already.” Eyes glanced around the room, as the three tried to remind themselves what clues they were left. Janine looked at the color contraption.
“Ooh! Oh! Cut green!” She said, pointing and bouncing on her heels.
“Are you sure?” Cecilia asked. She looked worried still, and Janine rushed to reassure her.
“Of course it’s green! The color puzzle, remember? It’s the only one to do with color, and it said Green!”
The clock dinged again and began ticking with each second, ten, nine, eight. A thrill went through Janine’s body. It was down to the wire now. Literally.
Randy didn’t hesitate to cut the green wire and the clock on the bomb stopped. The clock face clicked and swung up. Inside were two folded victim photos, this time with G and D. They came with a single slip of paper that said “Anagram”.
“Again?” Randy groused.
“So the victim pictures are an anagram!” Cecilia immediately began spreading the victim pictures out, faces down. RIEBDG. “…BEDGIR, RIBDEG…. Bridge! It’s Bridge!”
“Brooklyn Bridge!” Janine declared. She turned, almost tripping over her feet to press the button that would let them out of the room. “Brooklyn Bridge!” She cried again, and the door swung open.
There waiting were the two Game Masters, who were all grins. “Congratulations! You won! You beat the Escape Room!”